Recognise ‘limitations’ of Gaza death figures, statistics watchdog tells MPs

Hamas says at least 34,596 Palestinians have died since the conflict in Gaza began
Hamas says at least 34,596 Palestinians have died since the conflict in Gaza began - Dawoud Abo Alkas/Getty

The statistics watchdog has urged MPs and ministers to provide the source when quoting death figures from the Hamas-run health ministry and recognise their “limitations” amid claims the numbers cannot be trusted.

Last month, The Telegraph reported that Sir Michael Ellis, the former attorney general, and Andrew Percy, his fellow Conservative MP, had written to the UK Statistics Authority to alert it to an admission by Hamas that it has “incomplete data” on a third of Gazan deaths.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says at least 34,596 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, but the veracity of their statistics has been disputed.

In a reply to the two MPs, Sir Robert Chote, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, said: “As you will appreciate, it is beyond our remit and our capability to assess the accuracy of casualty statistics in an overseas conflict.

“Tracking the number of fatalities is challenging in any conflict, and there are often inaccuracies and inconsistencies in real-time reporting. There is always the potential for numbers emerging from a conflict situation to be contested, and for there to be suspicions that they reflect a particular narrative.

“Given these uncertainties and potential sources of bias, it would be desirable for ministers, shadow ministers and other parliamentarians to state the source of any estimates they use in the public domain and to recognise the limitations attached to them.”

UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), a voluntary group, has also written to the UK Statistics Authority about Hamas casualty figures.

In his response to UKLFI, Sir Robert said he “urged ministers, shadow ministers and other parliamentarians to give the source of any numbers they quote”.

Sir Michael told The Telegraph: “This intervention from the UK Statistics Authority is a timely reminder for the media, all parliamentarians, and indeed everyone, that Hamas is a vicious terrorist organisation which carried out the worst massacre of Jews since 1945.

“Extreme care must be taken by broadcasters and those in public life when quoting Hamas figures. Eminent statisticians worldwide have made it clear the figures are not reliable.

“It is essential that trusted sources here in the UK do everything they can to avoid carelessly disseminating Hamas propaganda as if it were the gospel truth.”

‘Highly questionable figures’

Mr Percy said: “For months, politicians, the media and others have blindly repeated casualty figures provided by a terrorist organisation with not only a history of rape and murder, but of open manipulation of statistics.

“I am therefore pleased that the Statistics Authority has rebuked those who repeat these figures without any reference to their very questionable source or without any apparent appreciation that they may be less than accurate and being used to support a biased political narrative.

“As in all conflicts, civilians are dying in this war, and every innocent death is a tragedy, but the repeating of highly questionable figures from a murderous terrorist death cult is directly fueling hate on our streets, particularly towards the British Jewish community.

“Politicians, the media and others should be more careful when parroting ‘facts’ from Hamas.”